Saturday, 30 April 2011

A website visualised

I found this website.  And it produced this image.


Visualisation of Witter

I think it's quite pretty.  It's a visualisation of this blog.  Try the link for yourself and try out other websites to see your own visualisations.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Visa Way


So today is the last day to apply for Olympic tickets.
We did it yesterday and we went a little bit crazy.
The whole applying process is quite simple, if expensive and actually completely outrageous.  There are times when corporate sponsorship goes too far, and Visa's complete obliteration of all that is acceptable is, frankly, unacceptable.
To attend events at the Olympic Games you choose firstly the events and then the ticket price.  This is not like choosing a ticket for the theatre because you are merely choosing how much you are willing to pay.  The assumption is that the more one pays the better the seats supplied.  At no point are applicants given sight of a seating plan or any kind of indication of how far away they will be from any sporting action.  It's merely an assumption.  A very expensive assumption in our case.
There is no guarantee that the tickets for which you have applied will actually be allocated.  In our case, if they are not, that will be a financial bonus as well as a crushing disappointment.
In May your Visa card, and yes it must be a Visa card, will be debited for the amount of your successful application and you must ensure you have sufficient funds (or credit limit) to cover the amount for which you have applied.  In our case that means we can't spend any money on our Visa card at all because our application absorbs our entire credit limit, bar about £150.
At the end of June you'll be told which tickets were allocated.
What?  You mean I paid for something in May and won't know exactly what it is until the end of June?
Yep, that's the Visa way.
Now obviously you might find that your Equestrian clashes with your Rhythmic Gymnastics and you were successful with both ticket applications.  You'd applied for both because you were hedging your bets (we've hedged a lot of bets).  Clearly you want a refund on the Equestrian event because your true love is Rhythmic Gymnastics.
Getting a refund is perfectly possible but, only when applied for in 2012.
What? I can only get a refund in 2012, over six months after I paid for the damn things?  That's outrageous!
No.  That's the Visa way.
The most sickening and annoying thing about this whole thing isn't the anxious wait to find out whether you'll be trotting off to see the horses in Greenwich or young girls twirling ribbons.  It's the fact that the whole "pay for stuff in May, find out what you've paid for in June and maybe get a refund next year" is not information that you'll find on the website.  No, to find this out you have to search Google. (If you are looking for advice then this is a good site:
And that's the Visa way.  God Bless Visa.
You know, I've previously not cared a jot about any credit card provider but now I do have a fully formed opinion of Visa as a brand.  I wonder if it's the one they envisaged when they engaged in their Olympic sponsorship.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Our daily bread

I bought a breadmaker last weekend.

Before last weekend I had thought I might benefit from one. I was also worried that I'd buy the wrong one, wouldn't be able to work it, wouldn't know where to store it etc.

So if you're experiencing the same dilemma then this is what I did and what I discovered.

I decided to buy the Panasonic SD-256.  I could have bought the SD-257 but the only discernible differences between the two is about £50 in price and a raisin/nut/seed dispenser.  I think the raisin dispenser feature would be a useful feature but only when using the timer facility.  So far I have used the timer facility a lot.  My plan is to live with the SD-256 for a while and then think about upgrading.

I bought it for a bargain £70 and, if you buy at the moment, you can go to the Panasonic website and download a form to complete and send off for a "free" bread recipe book (written by someone who uses a Panasonic breadmaker).

So now I have one, what do I think?

Well Dave didn't want me to buy one but that's because I have too much stuff in the kitchen already.  He had a point.  It's a bit too big for a kitchen cupboard which is just as well as I don't have any space in any kitchen cupboards anyway. (I hate my kitchen)

However, it sort of fits if you balance it on top of the the microwave.  OK this is a rubbish storage solution but it gets used daily so storage is less of an issue and it just gets in the way.

And what have I used it for?

Well timer set baking is great for that freshly baked bread smell first thing in the morning.  But very fresh bread is difficult to slice. I've been making a wholemeal and white mix with seeds and it is delicious.  If I'd got the SD-257 model I might have used the dispenser to add the seeds.  As it is I just bung the seeds in on top of the other ingredients and it works perfectly.  There is an order in which the ingredients need to be added, mainly to separate the water, sugar and the yeast until the right moment, and the order does seem to be important.

Hannah has given up her usual order of cinnamon and raisin bagel in favour of fresh bread with honey.

I've also tried a few dough recipes and freestyled it a bit adding all sorts into the mix.  The olives I sliced got a bit mashed in the mixing process.  This may have been avoided by having the SD-257 or even figuring out how to select the raisin dough cycle which beeps when the stuff (raisins or olives or whatever) need adding.  I've figured this out now but I got very annoyed during the figuring it out process.

There are some recipes that require lining the bread tin with baking parchment.  This is simply ridiculous and I plan to use loaf tin and oven for those recipes, if I ever get there.

I did try panettone and the first time I forgot to put the kneading blade in first so tipped everything out, put the blade in and tipped everything back in again. Disaster. But when I tried again without screwing things up it was much better.

I can't see the point of using the bake only function.  Use an oven and a cake/loaf tin!

I've also used the rapid bake function and that worked really well for a bread mix but I'm equally confident it would work with a normal loaf.

There will be a hole in the bottom of every loaf you make because the kneading blade doesn't have a way of disappearing after it's done the kneading.

So I'm just off to bed, but I need to pop some ingredients in the breadmaker and press go and I know the ingredients list off by heart: 200g white flour (Canadian is best, try Marriages), 200g wholemeal or granary flour, 3/4tsp dried yeast, 1tsp sugar, 1tsp salt (I use less), 15g butter (I do this by eye so it's 15g ish) and 290ml water and a big handful of mixed seeds.


Friday, 22 April 2011


Conversation with Ethan during his monster attempt at the world record for number of trampoline bounces in a day.

"Mu-u-um, how many people live in New Zealand?"

"Erm, maybe four million." (This turns out to be reasonably accurate as guesses go.)

"So not as many as the United Kingdom?"

"No.  Not as many as the United Kingdom."

"But more than Japan?"

"No. I think Japan has more people than New Zealand." (Got this right too.  Amazing because Geography was never my thing and I'm useless at remembering facts.)

"But what about the tsunami?"

"What about the tsunami?"

"Did you know a tsunami can get up to 10 metres tall which is the same as our tape measure can measure?"

"What a coincidence...."


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Data Protection Act II and subversion

No, there isn't a DPAII that I'm aware of but this is my second of two posts on the subject.

You know when you return something to a shop and they refund your credit card and they ask you for your name, address and sometimes phone number....

When have you been told what the company is doing with that information?

When have you been asked about marketing permissions associated with those details?

Have you ever questioned the request for your personal data or have you just handed it over for fear of jeopardising your chance of successfully getting your money back?

You mug!

Me too.

Why do they need that information?

What do they use it for?

Is it a subversive way to collect information for the marketing database?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Data Protection Act and Currys

I brought a breadmaker today.  My bread is a bit hit or miss so I found one I wanted and reserved it at a local Currys for in store pick up.  During the reservation process I gave away my name, address, telephone number, email address and bra size but was given the option of opting into or out of marketing communications from Currys and partner companies.

In store, at the checkout, I was asked for the same personal details but I could see that the checkout assistant couldn't be bothered with asking me all of the details.  Whilst she didn't catch my telephone number and email address, she did have my name and address.  And importantly while she was skipping over the detail she also skipped over the tick box that was there to capture people who didn't want to receive marketing information.  She just didn't ask me.  She assumed I wanted junk mail, or perhaps she was poorly training and didn't know what the "No Marketing" box meant.

I explained that she had missed some information and she cancelled the transaction and started again, this time ticking the right box.

I took the breadmaker out to the car, went back in and told a manager that his staff needed more training and that, currently, his staff were breaching the Data Protection Act. I wasn't told why my data was being collected and what it would be used for and I wasn't given the option of saying no to marketing information.


Mummy loves Ethan more than Ethan loves Mummy

Ethan and I have this thing.  I'll say I love him and he'll say "Not as much as I love you." and then I'll reply with "No. I love you more." And so it goes on ad infinitum.

Anyway Ethan's latest retort was "No you don't. I checked it on Google." This of course is met by me saying that I checked Google and that he was wrong.

Tonight we both checked Google together and it was universally rubbish.  The search term I used was, admittedly, quite ridiculous: "Does Mummy love Ethan more than Ethan loves Mummy?"

So this is a test of the power of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and the power of the blog for achieving a Google rank.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The other side of the fence

You know I don't want the neighbours to be successful with their planning application.  But maybe I'm just being a bit selfish.  Let's look at things from their point of view, or what I imagine to be their point of view.

You moved into your house 13-14 years ago and within a couple of years you'd applied for planning permission to expand the house adding almost 50% of the volume of the existing house.  For whatever reason you never went ahead with those plans but ever since you've been dissatisfied with your house.  You don't like the kitchen and there's only one small bathroom and so you haven't really bothered with maintaining the house that much.  In the back of your mind you know your house will be changing and all of those little things will get fixed then.

And then in 2005 a developer put an idea in your head.  Knock down the house and build flats.  Make lots of money and move to a bigger and better house, one that has a bigger kitchen and maybe a couple of bathrooms.

Your architect worked really closely with Brentwood Council Planning office to the point that you were almost promised the rubber stamp of approval.  In fact the planning office did recommend approval but there was a problem.  Something happened and you decided to withdraw the plans.  

This put you in a difficult position.  You feel you alienated your neighbours in the area with the planning application but the plans were never agreed by the council.  You carried on living in the house you were never happy with and because the plans to move on were put on ice you made some improvements to the house.  You did get a new kitchen and you did do some of those little maintenance jobs.

And then the development opportunity became feasible once more and you knew that last time the approval was as good as in the bag, or so you thought.  So you resubmitted the plans, making some minor changes to make the flats more saleable and by considering some of the planning department's recommendations from the previous application.

The trouble is that there are a few things that have changed since the prior application which make the original plans less feasible.  Also your main neighbour was suffering from post natal depression the last time you applied and, frankly, she only managed a lame 35 letters in to the council.  This time she has children at school and access to a much bigger network of people who are likely to be concerned by the development.  Also in 2005 nobody was using Facebook, and now everybody is.  Blogging and Facebook and Twitter are all widely used and available.  Many more people use e-mail and have computers with internet access and smartphones.  The world is far more connected.  Opposing a planning application just got a whole lot easier.  All people have to do is to complete a simple online form.  The confidence you had when you submitted the application is waning.  Local residents are more politicised and politically savvy and they are displaying their views in their windows.  

You feel more and more isolated and your confidence about getting plans approved is starting to evaporate.  You are considering your options and contemplating an alternative plan. 

You honestly believe that your plans are the best alternative for the community because your plans are what you think fits with the look and style and scale of the neighbouring properties even though your neighbours might not agree.  You believe that if your plans aren't approved then someone else will get much less attractive plans approved.  Local residents should be grateful for the time and money that has gone into the consideration and thought behind the plans.  And partly you are concerned that if the plans are rejected then you will have sunk an unrecoverable small fortune into the enterprise.